Apr. 27, 2006

To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time

by Robert Herrick

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Poem: "To The Virgins, To Make Much Of Time" by Robert Herrick. Public domain. (buy now)

To The Virgins, To Make Much Of Time

Gather ye Rose-buds while ye may,
   Old Time is still a flying:
And this same flower that smiles today,
   Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious Lamp of Heaven, the Sun,
   The higher he's a getting;
The sooner will his Race be run,
   And nearer he's to Setting.

That Age is best, which is the first,
   When Youth and Blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
   Times, still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time;
   And while ye may, goe marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
   You may for ever tarry.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the Ulysses S. Grant, (books by this author) born in Point Pleasant, Ohio (1822). He was the commander of the Union Armies at the end of the Civil War and served as the eighteenth president of the United States. After serving as president, he joined his son in an investment banking business.

The banking venture was extremely profitable for a few years, and then the bubble burst. One of the bank's partners had been keeping false books and embezzling money into his private account. Grant, who had thought he was a millionaire, found out that his partnership in the failed bank left him several million dollars in debt. Less than ten years since he had been president of the United States, he had gone completely broke.

He had previously rejected requests to write about his experience as a Civil War general. Now he desperately needed the money. Mark Twain offered him 75 percent of the profits if Grant would publish with Twain's newly started publishing house.

But by that time, Grant had also been diagnosed with throat cancer and his health deteriorated rapidly. He realized that he didn't have long to live, and wrote his memoirs as fast as he could. In extreme pain, and in a daze from pain medication, he still managed to write 275,000 words in less than a year. In the last few weeks of his illness, he couldn't even speak, but he kept writing and revising, and checking everything he wrote against the official records to make sure it was all factual. He finished his memoirs in July 1885, and died four days later.

Grant's book did not appear in bookstores, but was sold by subscription, and it was Mark Twain's idea to send out former Union soldiers, in uniform, to sell the subscriptions door to door across the country. The book eventually sold more than 300,000 copies. It provided Grant's family with $450,000 in royalties, the largest amount of royalties that had ever been paid out for a book at that point in history.

Critics and writers of the time were shocked at how well Grant wrote. His book Personal Memoirs (1885) is one of the few books ever written by an American president that qualifies as great literature.

Among the most famous passages in the book is Grant's description of Robert E. Lee's surrender at the Appomattox Court House. Grant wrote, "What General Lee's feelings were I do not know ... [but] my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause (slavery) was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse."

It's the birthday of the author of the "Madeline" books, Ludwig Bemelmans, (books by this author) born in Meran, Tyrol, Austria (1898). The first of the five "Madeline" books tells tells the story of a young Parisian girl's trip to the hospital to have her appendix removed. He got the idea when he was in the hospital recovering from a bicycle accident and there was a girl in the next room over who had just had her appendix out.

Madeline (1939) begins: "In an old house in Paris, that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines. In two straight lines they broke their bread, and brushed their teeth, and went to bed. They smiled at the good, and frowned at the bad, and sometimes they were very sad. They left the house at half past nine, in two straight lines, in rain or shine ... the smallest one was Madeline!"

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Gilbert Sorrentino, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1929). His first novel was The Sky Changes, the story of a couple's attempt to save their crumbling marriage by taking a road trip across America.

It's the birthday of playwright August Wilson, (books by this author) born Frederick August Kittel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1945). He wrote many plays, including Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (1984), Fences (1987) and The Piano Lesson (1990). He died on October 2, 2005.

It's the birthday of Anglo-Irish writer Mary Wollstonecraft, (books by this author) born in London in 1759, one of the first women to argue in favor of equality between the sexes in her book Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

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